20 Things To Do In Portsmouth NH

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An hour north of Boston, on the mouth of the Piscataqua River and the seacoast, lies Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As the oldest settlement in New Hampshire, it holds a special place in the hearts of New Hampshire residents and in the history of this “Live Free or Die” state. Founded in 1623, it still features many historical houses and buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

As it’s a port close to Boston and on the border with Maine, it has served as a hub for commercial interests and industry over its long history. Today, it’s a thriving cultural hub and scenic location. You’ll find some interesting things to do in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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20 Things To Do In Portsmouth

1- Explore Market Square, The Heart Of Downtown

portsmouth market square
Exploring Market Square is one of the first things to do in Portsmouth NH.

Downtown truly is the place to be and best explored on foot to immerse yourself in all the history and culture.

Market Square is the heart of downtown, featuring thriving local businesses, restaurants, and cultural attractions.

While many of its best attractions are only open during the Memorial to Columbus Day season, there is still so much to do year-round, featuring fantastic foliage in the fall, gorgeous blooming wildlife in the spring, and a very special Christmas season.

Dubbed the “Christmas Capital of North America” by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2017, Portsmouth is one of the top New England Christmas destinations, featuring Vintage Christmas, a month-long holiday celebration kicked off by the Christmas Tree Lighting and Illuminated Holiday Parade on December 1st.

You may also like these themed self-guided tours:

2- Check Out The Warner House

Portsmouth is entrenched in history, and the Warner House, a.k.a. The Macphaedris-Warner House, is just the first of its many gorgeous and intriguing historical offerings.

Built from 1716-1718, it is the oldest brick house in northern New England.

It was originally built for Captain Archibald Macpheadris, housing six generations of extended family, including Jonathan Warner, a prominent merchant, who married into the family in 1760.

The house became a museum in 1932, saving it from being torn down and turned into a gas station.

It is furnished with the chicest decor of the time by Captain Macpheadris’s daughter Mary Macpheadris Osborne and provides a glimpse into life during the 18th and nineteenth centuries.

The Warner House is at 150 Daniel Street, Portsmouth, 03802.

3- Explore The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion

Located on Little Harbor and built in the 18th century, it is the only surviving residence of a Royal Governor in the U.S., with 40 rooms in the mansion that were the home, office and farm for Royal Governor Benning Wentworth.

In addition to the mansion, it features a wonderful 1.5-mile (2.4 km) Little Harbor Trail with beautiful views of the city and the ocean.

The Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion is at 375 Little Harbor Road, Portsmouth, 03801.

4- See The Moffat-Ladd House

The Moffat-Ladd House is another amazing example of Portsmouth’s history and a National Historic Landmark.

Built for Samuel Moffat, the son of one of the wealthiest men in the New Hampshire colony, and his wife Sarah, the house began construction in 1760, which lasted for three years, and then housed the family for 150 years.

It is also known as the William Whipple House as it was later home to Founding Father, Revolutionary War Declaration of Independence signatory General William Whipple, who married into the family in 1770.

The house became a museum in 1912 and focuses on sharing the history of Portsmouth and the stories of the families who lived there with the public.

The Moffat-Ladd House is at 154 Market Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

5- Visit The Portsmouth Historical Society And The John Paul Jones House

fun things to do in portsmouth nh
Enjoying historic architecture is one of the interesting things to do in Portsmouth for history lovers.

The Portsmouth Historical Society started in 1917 to preserve and share the city’s history through exhibitions and programs in their Welcome Center and the historic John Paul Jones House Museum.

Visit the historic home named after the American Revolution hero who rented a room here in 1777, see permanent and rotating exhibits, and take historical tours around the city, all curated by the Portsmouth Historical Society.

You can even learn the history of Portsmouth’s unsung heroes, such as its often-overlooked women and queer members who laughed in the face of stereotypes and made an impact on history.

The Portsmouth Welcome Center & Academy Galleries are at 10 Middle Street, Portsmouth, 03801, while the John Paul Jones House Museum is at 43 Middle Street. Portsmouth, 03801.

6- Take A Stroll Through Prescott Park

On the banks of the Piscataqua River and only a short walk from the centre of downtown, Prescott Park is Portsmouth’s best public park, with over 10 acres (4.05 ha) of land, including gardens, walkways, places to sit, and recreational areas.

It is a joy throughout the year featuring local blooming flowers in spring and gorgeous foliage in the fall.

Concerts and other events, like the Prescott Park Arts Festival during the summer, are held throughout the year, so be sure to look at their schedule.

Prescott Park is at 105 Marcy Street, Portsmouth, 03801. This bike tour will take you to Prescott Park and other places: Island Harbor Bike Tour.

7- Explore Books And All Things Literary In Three Separate Locations

If you are a book lover, Portsmouth has several must-visit locations.

The Portsmouth Athenaeum is a library, art gallery, and museum all in one.

It is one of less than 20 membership libraries left in America that was created in the 18th century for members to access educational resources.

Open since 1816, they have been offering access to books, history, lectures, readings, art and more for over 200 years.

Portsmouth Athenaeum is at 9 Market Square, Portsmouth, 03801.

8- Hang Out In A Bookstore

Book and Bar is a local bookstore featuring not just your typical cafe with coffee and tea but also alcohol, beer, wine, and small plates and appetizers.

They host various events, including live music, poetry, literary and community events, and just being a really awesome bookstore.

Book and Bar is at 40 Pleasant Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

Sheafe Street Books is a tiny quintessential indie bookstore on a side street downtown with a focus on beat literature, poetry, New England, and the classics, but there’s a little bit of everything.

This “Best Small Bookshop” in New England, according to Yankee Magazine, is a favourite of many, including me.

Be ready to explore even though space is tight and you may even spot the cat.

Sheafe Street Books is located at 29 Sheafe Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

8- Check Out Or Climb The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

things to do portsmouth nh waves crashing against lighthouse
Visiting the Harbor Lighthouse is one of the classic things to do in Portsmouth nh.

While it is technically in New Castle, the smallest town in N.H., the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse is a treat and can be viewed from afar in Portsmouth.

To go inside the only lighthouse in New Hampshire located in Portsmouth’s backyard, you can make a registration ahead of time to climb up the lighthouse to the lantern room and see the view.

The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse is at Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor, 25 Wentworth Road, New Castle, 03854.

9- Catch A Show At The Music Hall Or The Seacoast Repertory Theatre

Claiming to be the oldest operating theatre in N.H., the Music Hall is Portsmouth’s most legendary and historic music venue, hosting concerts, theatrical shows, comedy, film screenings, and literary readings.

It originally started as a Vaudeville theatre and retains much of the interior decor and opulence you would expect from such a theatre.

Their other location, the Music Loft, is a small contemporary black box theatre for more intimate events.

The Music Hall is at 28 Chestnut Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

Seacoast Repertory Theatre (or the Rep) is a nonprofit theatre downtown that regularly hosts shows with local performers from New England.

If they are sold out or you are concerned about going out for any reason, you can also purchase a ticket to view the live stream of a show.

Seacoast Repertory Theatre is at 125 Bow Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

10- Walk Along The Black Heritage Trail And Visit The African Burying Ground Memorial

The Black Heritage Trail aims to bring awareness to African American history in New Hampshire and beyond, honouring and telling their stories, beginning with the enslaved through the present day.

Tours, exhibits, programs, and more are available in addition to the self-guided walk, which includes 24 sites around Portsmouth.

Located on Chestnut Street, the African Burying Ground was the burying ground for the enslaved and free Blacks of Portsmouth in the 1700s

During this time, it was the outskirts of town, but as the city grew, it was paved over so that the city could continue to grow.

Today, it serves as a memorial park to honour the hundreds of people buried there and is one of the only known burying sites of Africans during this era in New England.

The African Burying Ground is at 386 State Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

11- Travel Back In Time At the Strawbery Banke Museum

best things to do in portsmouth nh
Admiring fall colours is one of the cool things to do in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Here’s a street near the Strawbery Banke Museum.

Affectionately called the Banke by locals, the Strawbery Banke Museum is one of the most popular things to do in town.

Located in the Puddle Dock, the oldest neighbourhood in New Hampshire, this museum offers indoor and outdoor exhibits on 10 acres (4.05 ha) with 39 historic buildings and the Visitor Center, sharing the history of the early English settlers.

This excellent living history museum shares life in the 1600s-1900s with fantastic costumed guides who stay in character the whole time.

The museum is closed during winter, but Puddle Duck Pond on their grounds is open for ice skating.

The Strawbery Banke Museum is at 14 Hancock Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

12- Walk Along The Portsmouth Harbor Trail

portsmouth NH
Going on a cruise is another cool thing to do in Portsmouth NH.

Stroll through the city for about 1 mile (1.6 km), covering 400 years of history and visiting 70 places of either historic or scenic significance, 10 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and another 10 are National Historic Landmarks.

The Portsmouth Harbor Trail has been named “Best of New England Editors’ Choice” by Yankee Magazine.

Take a guided tour starting at the Market Square Information Kiosk at 1 pm every day during the Memorial Day to Columbus Day season, costing $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 8 to 14.

13- Explore The City On A Bike Tour

There are many ways to explore the city of Portsmouth, and one of them is by bike.

Check online to see the many different bike tours available.

With tours of the city, the coast and islands, wooded trails in nature reserves, along the entire N.H. coastline, and more, you can find the one for you.

Here are some options:

14- Visit Local Breweries

things to do in portsmouth, nh four beer mugs
Tasting local beer is another fun thing to do in Portsmouth.
Earth Eagle Brewings

Earth Eagle Brewings has an eclectic selection of European-style beers, typical IPAs and APAs, cocktails, wine, an outdoor beer garden and indoor seating.

Earth Eagle Brewings is at 175 High Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

Great Rhythm Brewing Company

Great Rhythm Brewing Company overlooks North Mill Pond in Portsmouth and features IPAs and great sours.

Great Rhythm Brewing Company is at 105 Bartlett Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

Portsmouth Brewery

Open for 30 years, Portsmouth Brewery continues to be an excellent restaurant that doubles as a brewery with a ton of seating, including outdoors, making it an easy pick no matter your group size.

You’ll find ales, lagers, and IPAs, among other options on the tap menu.

Portsmouth Brewery is at 56 Market Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

15- Check Out The USS Albacore Museum

USS Albacore
Seeing the US Albacore is one of the unique things to do in Portsmouth NH.

The USS Albacore is a retired research submarine active from 1953 to 1972, testing features that are now found on most modern submarines.

Go inside the submarine to check out the bunk rooms and control room, and explore what life was like underwater for the Navy servicemen.

Originally built at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, it’s a fitting return home for the submarine now open to the public for most of the year, closing from mid-December through mid-February.

The USS Albacore Museum is at 600 Market Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

16- Go Sailing With The Gundalow Company

Have you ever wanted to sail as they did in days of yore?

Sail on this stunning replica of the last commercial gundalow in operation, leaving from the dock at Prescott Park from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.

They offer public sails (check their calendar for details), private charters, and even education sails for field trips.

The Gundalow Company retail shop and offices are at 60 Marcy Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

17- Try Some Scrumptious Local Eats

The Friendly Toast

The Friendly Toast features eclectic decor and artwork, including a giant seahorse, while offering interesting breakfast and lunch options and brunch cocktails until 3 pm.

The Friendly Toast is at 113 Congress Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

The Kitchen

The Kitchen has the best sandwiches around and was even featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

This diner serves artisanal burgers with different flavour fusions and you have to try their “spudster” deep-fried mashed potato cones served with dipping sauces.

The Kitchen is at 171 Islington Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

The Franklin

The Franklin is the place for progressive, sustainable seafood featuring raw oyster bars and charcuterie selections to pair with almost tapas-style seafood selections such as poke, panzanella, po’boys and tacos.

And if seafood isn’t your thing, their hot honey buttermilk fried chicken plates are a crowd favourite.

The Franklin is at 148 Fleet Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain

Fezziwig’s Food & Fountain is an adorable Dickensian-style dessert cafe with sundaes, milkshakes, coffee, tea, and more, with costumed employees to bring the theme together.

Fezziwig’s Food and Fountain is at 112 State Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

18- Cruise To The Isles of Shoals

portsmouth new hampshire
Are you wondering what things to do in Portsmouth NH? Here are 20 to tick off your list.

A few miles off the coast between New Hampshire and Maine and inhabited for more than 400 years, these Isles offer a truly unique experience for your visit.

The Isles of Shoals Steamboat Company takes you on a narrated cruise along the islands with a one-hour guided walking tour of Star Island, costing $39 for adults and $29 for children.

The tour focuses on the history of Portsmouth Harbor, but also includes local lore and legend featuring pirates and ghost tales.

The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company is at 315 Market Street, Portsmouth, 03801.

19- Drive To Peirce Island

things to do in portsmouth nh memorial bridge lit up at night
Another historic bridge is the Memorial Bridge, which dates back to WWI and is a vertical-lift bridge carrying U.S. Route 1 across the Piscataqua River. It connects Portsmouth with Badger’s Island in Kittery, Maine.

Peirce Island is a 27-acre (10.9 ha) historical island connected to the mainland by the Peirce Island Bridge and also connected to Four Tree Island.

This scenic island was the former site of Fort Washington (named our first president) from 1775 to the early 1800s, but today features an outdoor pool, trails, playgrounds, cliffs, tidal pools, and more with a ton of history.

The island is free to visit and accessible, but the outdoor pool costs $2 for residents and $4 for non-residents.

20- Cool Off At Water Country Water Park

If you are visiting during the summer, especially with kids, this water park with pools, rides, slides, and activity areas for the whole family can provide a welcome oasis from the heat.

It is catered toward kids, though, of course, water-park-loving adults are still welcome to enjoy it as well.

Water Country Water Park is at 2300 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, 03801.

We hope this guide has given you a taste of Portsmouth and helped you start planning your trip.

This little seaside town has it all: history, culture, food and fun.

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Sarah Hoffschwelle is an author and freelance writer with a Bachelor’s in English and a Master’s in Museum Studies focusing on science communication and education. Originally from Texas, she moved to South Korea as a child for a couple of years, travelling to China, Thailand, Japan, and Australia during her time there. She has travelled to Germany, England, and Ireland and studied abroad for a summer in Italy. She currently lives in New Hampshire and continues to travel domestically as much as possible and is planning several international trips for the next few years